Cause this is a THRILLER

Memorable moments guaranteed to thrill you, from the exciting up-tempo electro – funk ‘Billie Jean’, to the soft, soulful ballad of ‘Human Nature’ and internationally hearted ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’. Michael Jackson first confided to his manager, John Branca, that he wanted to be “the biggest star in show business” after Thriller’s predecessor Off the Wall, although successful in its own right, did not reach expectations. However the success of Thriller has been so unthinkable, even by Jackson’s perfectionist standards.

Pre-eminent pop icon Michael Jackson is renowned for much more than just his vocal abilities; he was considered an incomparable songwriter, dancer, actor, choreographer, poet, businessman, philanthropist, and record producer. Jackson debuted as the lead singer of the Jackson 5 in 1964 and began his solo career in 1971, resulting in ten studio albums. Thriller was Michael Jackson’s sixth studio album, so what made this one so enthralling and innovative to the populace of the eighties and beyond?
Jackson was inspired to create an album whereby “every song was a killer” as with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, he developed Thriller on a similar concept. The amalgamation of irresistible melodies and charismatic lyrics infuse an infectious confidence, showcasing Jackson’s considerable composing talent. “All the brilliance that had been building inside Michael for twenty-four years just erupted” as explained by J. Randy Taraborrelli in Jackson’s unofficial biography, Michael Jackson: The Man & the Madness. Jackson exploits thematic sound effects, supernatural imagery and vocal trickery to express a pragmatic sense of danger and excitement throughout Thriller.

The single ‘Thriller’ from the album with the identical name, exposes the horror essentials; additionally it features a voice-over rap by the master of the macabre, Vincent Price. The inventiveness of the creaking door in the beginning establishes the mood which is consistent in the remainder of the track. Although these ordinary sounds are not considered melodious, they formulate a theme for the track
Above Image: Michael Jackson, 'Thriller' Album Cover (1982)

namely footsteps on wooden floorboards, thunder, wind and howling dogs which. Undeniably Jackson’s signature ‘vocal hiccup’ had been well defined by Thriller. This can be heard particularly in ‘Billie Jean’ along with the idiosyncratic bass line and addictive beat. It is the ultimate pop dance tune, challenging you to take to the dance floor. Few people realise the originality of ‘Beat it’ and how out of character it was for Jackson do a cross-over rock piece at this stage of his musical career. ‘Beat it’ expresses the dislike of unnecessary violence in society; the lyrics depict ordeals of courage and defeat with a complimenting rock tune to suit. These were arguably the most memorable songs of Jackson’s entire career.

Even Thriller’s less significant songs have their quirks and charms. The creativity shown in ‘Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’’ is unmatched to date, with
imaginative lyrics primarily in the chorus “…you’re a vegetable/you’re a vegetable/they’ll eat off you...” shuffling percussion, and Swahili chant. Revolutionary lyrics of ‘Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’’ are a complicated arrangement of

Above Image: Michael Jackson at the Grammys, with producer Quincy Jones. (1984)

colliding hooks and pop melodies, which create a claustrophobic atmosphere. On the other hand this is surprisingly pleasant and refreshing due to the rarity in contemporary songs. ‘PYT (Pretty Young Thing)’ echoes the disco era of the seventies, nevertheless corresponds with the evolving funk and dance characteristics of the eighties. ‘Human Nature’ was the most notable ballad on the album because of its moody, introspective lyrics and the
overall tone of the track. However ‘Lady in My Life’ is definitely not one to be disregarded. Although the sultry ballad begins slowly, the tempo soon increases as the smooth soulful temperament introduces a different genre dimension to the album. The Beatles’ legend Paul McCartney is featured in the pop duet ‘The Girl is Mine’. This provides the ideal vocal and composing arrangement to create a thriving track. The track entails Jackson and McCartney arguing over a girl, layered on top of a smooth tune that appeases the soul.

Thriller substantiated Jackson’s independence from his family and the Jackson 5. This was obvious as in the 1980’s for an African-American artist to that point, his success was unprecedented. As a result, in 2005 Thriller was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, deemed “culturally significant”. Time compared Jackson to the successes of The Beatles and Elvis Presley, “Jackson is the biggest selling thing since The Beatles. He is the hottest single phenomenon since Elvis Presley. He just may be the most popular black artist ever”.

People too often disregard Jackson’s abilities as a songwriter and gifted vocalist but this became unquestionable following the triumph of Thriller. Rolling Stone compared his vocals to the “breathless, dreamy stutter” of Stevie Wonder.

Thriller indeed earned the title of bestselling album of all time, just
over a year after its release in 1982. This ground-breaking record still stands at present with an estimated one hundred million copies sold worldwide. Biographer J.Randy Taraborrelli divulges “at some point Thriller stopped selling like a leisure item; like a magazine, a toy, or tickets to hit a movie, and started selling like a household staple.” Seven of nine tracks of Thriller positioned within the top ten in the music charts. The album won a record breaking eight Grammy awards at the 1984, including the prestigious award of album of the year. The same year it won eight American music awards. In 2009 Thriller was certified 29x multi –platinum by the recording association of America and 15x platinum in Australia.

As an indication of albums longevity, in 2003 Thriller was ranked number 20 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time. Jackson’s evolution as an artist was far from complete after Thriller, as he continued to expand and push the limits of R&B pop music, soon earning the title “King of Pop”. Though the various genres means Thriller is a combination of songs with no common theme, it appeals to all tastes. “Thriller was the perfect album, every song an exercise in pop music production, every arrangement, every note in perfect place..” declares J. Randy Taraborelli. While most pop music from 1982 is outdated by today’s music standards, the tracks from Thriller are as fun and fresh thirty years later and just as compelling.

Written by Sarah Conron

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